“No more coral!” declares Mary Kate McGrath, picking up a party napkin emblazoned with the twiggy red theme so ubiquitous of late. We’re on a shopping trip in Tribeca, scouting warm-weather home touches that don’t have anchors, palm trees or any of the other usual seasonal suspects.
“Summer is not the time to pretend suddenly that you are an avid fisherman or yachtsman,” says Ms. McGrath, the editor of PureWow, a web site and daily lifestyle email for readers who have graduated from DailyCandy. “You don’t need rope everything or shell plates. You don’t need those in the city. Hello, you’re in a walkup.”
I first met Ms. McGrath when she was the design market editor at InStyle, which meant that she got paid to shop for items for the magazine’s home section. Such editors tend to be the envy of those with lesser jobs, as well as taste, and her own persuasions are crisp and preppy with a dash of humor and DIY whimsy. Ms. McGrath’s favorite designers are Eddie Ross, Ruthie Sommers and Mark D. Sikes.
PureWow’s motto is “Elevate the everyday,” a credo that suits Ms. McGrath. While office drones the world over sip filtered water from morning-breath-infused plastic souvenir cups, at InStyle, Ms. McGrath would bring a glass carafe to the cooler and pour it into a cocktail tumbler, out of pleasure rather than affect. She kept her stationery in a lucite box, all the better to actually use it. And her desk was never cluttered with the usual office detritus—all the drab stuff was neatly tucked away to make room for a spiky orb from Kelly Wearstler, a gilded snakeskin tray that doubled as her “inbox,” and a humongous Jo Malone candle. “It’s all about hiding the stuff you don’t want people to see—it makes for a better-looking life,” she said.
When it comes to summer home design, she likes to make a moment of it, much the same way some people approach fall and winter holidays: “I don’t have a summer house, so I have to find summer in everyday ritual,” says Ms. McGrath, who lives with her husband and two-year-old son on the Upper West Side. “Have sheets you only use during the summer. The rest of the year, pack them away.”
On a recent afternoon, she found lots of inspiration at three Tribeca shops: Stella for towels and sheets; Roberta Roller Rabbit for all manner of colorful prints; and Steven Alan Home to get that mod urban farmer feel. (“Instead of the awkward, ‘Hey, so glad you came, but do you know where those cute little baskets went?’ I can just buy, and not pocket, all his amazing finds,” she says.)
Even more than bright accessories, Ms. McGrath explains summer style chiefly as an absence of wintery clutter. Putting silverware on the counter and hiding your menus in the drawer—that type of thing. “Summer is a clean slate, a chance to remove the cobwebs and do the life you don’t normally do,” she says. “For a couple of months, pretend the guests are coming tonight and hide all the crap you don’t like in your life.” Just don’t hide it in a captain’s trunk.
• Stella, 184 Duane St. (212) 233-9610
• Roberta Roller Rabbit, 176 Duane St.(212) 966-0076
• Steven Alan Home, 158 Franklin St. (646) 402-9661
‘I love blue and white. I think humans are innately drawn to that color scheme. Every year you can add in different towels and they’ll always go together. You don’t need a matching set of Waverly towels.’
(Yoshii mini-guest towel, $8.75, Stella)
‘You know what you do with these? You never plant them. You never rip them open. You just have them around the house, and you’re like, oh, I’m a gardener.’
(Doug Johnston baskets, $36 to $175. Hudson Valley seeds, $4, Steven Alan.)
‘I’m sure they’re not as comfortable as those air mattresses,’ she said, eyeing an inviting stack of thin futons encased in cotton. ‘These are guest beds I wouldn’t mind pulling out. Throw it on the floor—everyone’s welcome.’
(Hedgehouse throwbeds, $350, Steven Alan)
‘Put this by the front door and throw all of your summer shoes and sandals in it. Or buy six new white towels. Then roll them up instead of folding them and stash them inside.’
(Large nesting boxes, $65, Roberta Roller Rabbit)
‘If you like how things are displayed in a store, try it at home. Just take a piece of crystal or even a glass hurricane vase and throw in a bunch of soaps. I once gave a friend a year of hand soaps. It cost me $80.’
(Claus Porto Classical & Fantasia Soaps, $13, Stella.)
‘These chair covers are so tongue in cheek. You have to add something funny to the mix. I would unabashedly tell everyone that they’re Ikea chairs underneath.’
(Chair Covers, $135, Roberta Roller Rabbit) Photos by Faye Penn